I had a look through a few old photos on an SD card last night. I’m having to use one of the cameras as a card reader now the reader on the computer is bust. None of my plug in card readers work because they never seem to last long. It’s very frustrating.
The first ones are a few photos from the days when I used to cook wheatsheaf loaves at harvest time. The farmer’s mother used to like to take one to church for the harvest festival and we used to display them at the local show. They aren’t particularly artistic, and nothing like as good as one produced by a professional, but it does show what you can do with dough and patience.
I’ve shown these before, so sorry about the repetition, but it’s a nice reminder of the days when we could get flour.
This is a pair I made using leftover pizza dough. They were about eight inches high and we handed them round to visiting school parties until they fell apart. I’m told that if you dry them properly whilst baking you can make a loaf that will last for years. I never found that, mine always seemed to crack and fall apart. It may have been the way I constructed them as they seemed to fracture along fault lines as if there was an internal problem. One did last a couple of years but these small ones, like the larger ones, lasted a couple of months before the faults developed. It’s long enough – as harvest ends and autumn begins everyone wants to move on to apple juice and jam.
These are a couple of mice from different loaves. You make an egg shaped piece of dough, poke two eyes in the sharp end, make two scissor snips for ears and then stick it on the stalks before applying a tail. It’s actually what you are judged on.
Nobody remarks on the 30 stalks you laboriously roll out, or the 100 ears of wheat (and the hundreds of snips you make to give them texture) – they just want to point at the mouse.
It’s like peering at the Mona Lisa for ten minutes before saying ‘Nice frame.’
I can’t remember the exact instructions, but you make a dough with less yeast than usual and divide it into three. One third becomes the base, which is a keyhole shaped piece of flat dough you use as a base – it’s important to get that in the right proportion if the finished loaf is to look right – it took me several goes to get this right. One third becomes the ears and one third becomes stalks and extras.
Do the stalks and position them, do the ears. A piece of dough about the size of the top finger joint will be OK – give it a few snips for texture and that’s a good enough impression of an ear of wheat – nobody ever criticised. Make a decent width of plait to act as the binding – it also serves to cover the raggedy join between stalks and ears.
Then finish off with a mouse. The previous tedious hour of shaping and snipping means nothing if the mouse isn’t right.
Glaze it, remembering not to clog the detail, bake it, try to dry it out as much as possible then cool it and stand back to receive compliments from people who don’t really understand how simple it is.
Remember that although the traditional ones were often two or three feet long that is because they were made by commercial bakers with big ovens – in a domestic oven you can do one about eighteen inches high.
If you feel inspired to try one, here are some better instructions.
Tomorrow I have some pictures of scones.